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Jewish World Review
Time Is Life
Rabbi Avraham Pam
A reminder about our temporary mission and Eternity
This month shall be for you the beginning of the months.
The mitzvah of the sanctification of the new moon, was the first commandment given to the Jewish people as they were about to become a nation.
There is a deep significance in the Divine's pick of this commandment for a nation of freed slaves. A slave has no time to call his own. His days and nights are controlled by his master. Freedom, among other things, enables one to use time as he so wishes and not be dependent on the needs or desires of another.
The sanctification of the new moon sets the cycle of the religious pilgrimages and festivals, as Judaism follows the lunar cycle. While it is the religious courts' task to sanctify the cycle of months, it is our task of to sanctify the gift of life one has been given by proper utilization of time.
When a person has a sizable amount of money to invest, he
doesn't simply accept the first offer that comes his way. He will
seek the advice of expert investment bankers to guide him in the
direction which will lead to the greatest financial return on his
money. Should he put the money in a C.D. or a money market
fund? Should he invest in government bonds or in the stock market?
What level of investment risk should he take in order to get a
higher return on his money? All these questions must be dealt with
in a serious manner because his financial future is at stake.
Yet while most people understand that investing money requires
careful forethought, very few people realize that even more forethought,
advice and planning is required in investing time a
commodity infinitely more valuable than money.
Every human being is allotted a specific amount of time on this
earth and a person's task is to make the optimum use of this
priceless gift. In what should a person invest his time to yield the
greatest ''returns'' in this world and the World to Come? Someday
a careful reckoning of every moment of life will be made by the
Heavenly Court to ascertain if this gift of time was used properly.
There will be severe penalties for wasting or ''killing'' time.
SMART, NOT JUST RELIGIOUS
The Chofetz Chaim would often repeat the following aphorism to
his disciples: "Do you think you have to be merely religious? You have to be
smart!'' His intention in this remark can be explained with a statement
from the Talmud (Chagigah 4a) which teaches that a deranged person is defined as someone who loses whatever is given to him. Thus, a person who is given the gift of time and life and thoughtlessly wastes it with foolishness is in the category of an insane person.
The Talmud (Gittin 65a) describes various levels of a child's intellectual development. The lowest level is a child who ''discards a stone but takes a nut.'' This means that when he is given two items that look similar to each other for instance, a large pebble and a nut he understands that he should throw away the worthless,
inedible pebble and keep the nut which he can eat. This shows
that the most basic level of intellect is when one can differentiate
between things that have value and those that do not. If so, when a
person has the time and ability to engage in spiritual pursuits and instead involves
himself in small talk, he is at that moment like a tiny infant whose
intellect is so undeveloped that he throws away the edible nut and
puts the pebble in his mouth.
A higher level of intellectual development is when the child understands that when someone gives him something, it is not his to keep forever, but it must be returned
upon demand at a later time (see Talmud, Gittin 64b). A very young child
will cry bitterly when a toy given to him to play with ''for a few
minutes'' by an older sibling is taken back. He has no concept of
''temporary ownership.'' What he gets is his forever or so he
The gift of time is also something which can be classified as an
item over which one has ''temporary ownership.'' Life is granted by
the Divine for a predetermined amount of time. Some people have it
for a longer period, others for a shorter period, but the day will
come when it will be taken back from every human being. Yet
many people, especially young ones, look ahead at the long road
of life as if it were endless and do not feel the need to utilize this
priceless opportunity to the fullest extent possible. By acting in
such an irresponsible manner with this gift from G-d, they are
like the little child who thinks that what he is given for a short time
will never be taken away from him. In America there are multibillion-
dollar industries devoted to helping people ''kill time.'' But
killing time is first-degree murder.
A Jew knows that his life has a profound purpose and his soul
has descended from beneath the Heavenly Throne to this earth to
accomplish a mission only he can fulfill. For that mission he is
allotted a certain amount of time to achieve his task. Whatever he
accomplishes in his life on this earth will be what must sustain his
soul for all eternity. Every day of one's life carries the potential to
be filled with great accomplishments.
Rabbi Chaim Vital (1543- 1620), the disciple of the great Kabbalist, the Arizal, writes in Shaarei Kedushah that a person must constantly remind himself, never to let a day of life slip by without pursuing religious study and doing acts of kindness.
On the Sabbath that we recite the Blessing of the New Month, we pray, ''May You give us long life a life of peace, a life of goodness, a life of blessing, a life of sufficient livlihood, a life of physical well-being a life in which we will have love of Torah and fear of Heaven, a life in which our heartfelt requests will be fulfilled for the good.'' By utilizing the gift of time to
its fullest, one will earn the full blessings of the Divine to live such a life.
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Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Pam (1913 - August 16, 2001) was the dean of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas in Brooklyn, New York and a member of the Council of Torah Sages of Agudath Israel. Recently, some of his public addresses have been rendered into English by a disciple, Rabbi Sholom Smith. One collection is "Rav Pam on Chumash (Bible)", from which this essay was excerpted.
© 2007, Mesorah Publications, Ltd.